I've noticed something frustrating and disturbing lately: a lack of thinking. Even before I started reading Seth Godin's Linchpin (recommended, btw), I had been complaining about a serious lack of evaluative thinking in the workforce. Many people of various ages, skills and management levels don't seem to be connecting dots, asking good questions taking action or making smart decisions any more.

People are afraid

I see so much fear everywhere I work. And not just since the economy crash-landed in the crapper. It's been coming on for awhile (I first noticed it in earnest in 2003). They're afraid of failure, afraid of constructive criticism, afraid of getting in trouble, afraid of losing their jobs, afraid of disappointing people. The irony is, of course, that fear forces terrible decision-making, the result of which is often the outcome we were trying to avoid in the first place. Gah!

Things have gotten so bad that on some projects, I wish people would just follow instructions and ask questions if they're confused. I've said all my professional life that the only stupid questions are the ones you ask too late in the game, or that you don't ask at all.

How fear kills thinking

But again, when you're scared, critical thinking stops meaning "evaluative" and starts meaning "judgmental". Instead of looking at the assignment or situation and making sure we understand what's what, we look at it and start judging ourselves or the assigner or our potential performance and the results thereof. It's a nasty spiral that takes us out of the effective zone and into the ineffective zone. And the ripple effect is gigantic.

Most of the folks we're working with aren't in monolithic, high-control companies that expect their employees to toe a certain line. They *should* be able to navigate properly. But, still, they don't think. They just blindly follow and hope nothing goes wrong. I'm not a Dr. Phil fan, but I have to ask, "How's that workin' for ya?"

How to get past fear and start thinking again

Take a chance. THINK. If something doesn't make sense, ask a question. If you're not getting the direction you need, assess the situation and choose a direction with purpose. Acknowledge your fear, then move past it to a place of action, not paralysis. Making these choices can get you closer to what you want than not thinking, deciding, acting ever could.